and Herbs in Oil
People sometimes store various
foods in oil to extend their shelf life and to flavor the oil.
Some examples include garlic, onions, sun-dried tomatoes, hot
peppers and mushrooms. These are popular products in the home
prepared items category, are also prepared and sold commercially.
Incidents of food borne illnesses
in recent years have increased the concern over the safety of
such foods when stored in oil.
Why do these products present
a health risk?
If stored at room temperature,
they present a health risk. Vegetables
are grown in the soil, and are naturally contaminated with Clostridium
botulinum bacteria. These bacteria normally do not cause
a problem unless they are in an air free environment such as
a can or vacuum package. Surrounding the vegetables with oil
creates an oxygen-free environment which is ripe for bacterial
growth and toxin production. While refrigeration will slow down
the growth of the bacteria, it may not prevent toxin production.
Consuming products that contain these toxins can
cause botulism, a potentially fatal food related illness.
This illness can happen without any evidence of spoilage such
as off odor, taste or appearance.
What are the symptoms of botulism?
The symptoms may include dizziness,
blurred or double vision, difficulty in swallowing, breathing
and speaking difficulties and progressive paralysis. The onset
of symptoms takes approximately twelve to thirty-six hours and
the duration may be one to ten days. Botulism can be fatal and
can cause permanent neurological damage in those who survive.
How do we protect ourselves?
not use home-prepared or home-canned products. Be careful when
you buy these products from fairs, farmers market or roadside
vendors. If the products are prepared at the restaurant, discard
after four hours at room temperature, using time as a public
health control. According to recent changes in Texas
Food Establishment Rules, use of time as a public health
control must be properly documented. Commercially prepared products
stored in oil that contain an acid (such as vinegar) or salts
in their list of ingredients are generally considered to be
safe. They are processed using technology not commonly available
to consumers. All products must be refrigerated after opening
and between each use. Feel free to contact the manufacturer
if you are in doubt about the ingredients.
more information about this article, or any other information,
please call the Bureau
of Consumer Health Services, at 713-794-9200.
to the Food Safety health tips page
the HDHHS Bureau of Consumer Health Services